Yes you read that right – an active volcano. This justifiably elicits a whole slew of one-syllable questions and possibly an acronym: Huh? What? Where? Why? and WTF? Let me explain.
Rest-assured I wasn’t the only one taking part in this seemingly dangerous activity. It’s actually a very popular thing to do when in Léon. A few tour companies (at the time there were only two maybe more have sprout since then) organize the descent but we chose to go with Big Foot Hostel.
Even if you don’t stay at the hostel (we didn’t), you can still book with them. The excursion starts with a very fun and bumpy ride in an orange mega-monster truck. It includes all the safety equipment (goggles, heavy-duty gloves & a bright orange coverall suitable for prison wear), a very rudimentary board (but efficient & sufficient enough for the task at hand) and a limited supply of beer (which I don’t drink but read on…..). You need to bring your own water and it’s imperative to wear closed-toe shoes preferably with socks (no flip flops!).
Oh and don’t forget your temporary insanity – bring it, use it, enjoy it!
The name of the volcano is Cerro Negro which translated means Black Hill. That is to say a 728 meter-high hill covered in volcanic rock which last erupted in 1999 (with seismic activity recorded in 2004). The climb takes about an hour all the while carrying your heavy wooden board which can get uncomfortable when in the throws of the inevitable strong winds especially at the top. The unmarked way up is strewed with unstable rocks and gets very steep (it’s an exhaustive climb). But once you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with incredible panoramic views of the Cordillera de los Maribios mountain range and you’ll be standing at the edge of the menacing mouth of the Cerro Negro volcano.
After a much-deserved break mostly spent running around taking pictures of every possible angle of the breath-taking scenery, it was time to gear up.
I didn’t think I would be nervous but when I stood in line waiting for my turn, I had (way too much) time to contemplate just how high we were and how steep the slide down really was. Doubt and fear filled my mind with “what ifs?”. I was trying to figure out how to slow down without getting stuck. I was desperately hoping I wouldn’t flip over and tumble all the way to the bottom like others had before me (with scrapes and bruises to boot).
Soon enough it was my turn. I nervously sat down on my board, hesitated (what am I doing?), held my breath and gave myself a push down.an.active.volcano. I was so nervous that I kept using my hands (thank you gloves!) and feet (thank you socks!) to slow down. Eventually, I did get stuck halfway down but managed to push myself to the end. I was going so slow there was no chance of flipping over – it was laughable really!
Once at the bottom, I was relieved to stand on my own two feet but after my nerves had passed, I wished I hadn’t put on the “breaks” so much. Anyways, in the end, I was definitely proud (a few got so scared they decided to walk down) and I felt exhilarated to have boarded down (albeit slowly, very slowly) the Cerro Negro active volcano!
On the way back to Léon, beers were passed around to celebrate our victory and though I don’t drink beer I was so thirsty (it was really hot going up) and dehydrated that I gulped down a whole Toña beer in just a few seconds. I didn’t expect to even take a sip but what surprised me even more was that I actually liked feeling the icy cold draft going down smoothly (that’s what they say in beer commercials right?). It was so refreshing and tasted delicious (so much so that I had another Toña during our vacation in Nicaragua – yes I went all out).
So if after all this you’re still wondering Why?? well, the answer is a triumphant: Because I Can!
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Have you boarded down Cerro Negro? Is this something you would do?